Autumn is one of my favorite times of the year. The air is getting cooler, the leaves are changing colors, and there are so many activities that bring my family together. There have been many writings about Spring and starting new, rebirth, and a fresh start. But if Spring is all about newness, then where does that leave Fall? It seems that Autumn is about coming to a close. We are leaving the summer behind and preparing for the cold Winter months. Animals prepare for hibernation, the days get shorter, and the leaves, which are so pretty early on, eventually turn brown and fall to the ground. In Chinese Medicine, Autumn is considered the season of Grief and I think that is very fitting.
What is Grief?
Grief is a strong and, at times, overwhelming emotion that comes about due to a loss of something important. It is typically associated with bereavement (the loss of a loved one through death) but it doesn't have to be. Grief can be felt due to the loss of a relationship, the loss of a job, the loss of identity, or a multitude of other important things in our lives. It is important to remember that grief is both natural and universal. It is not a sign of weakness and not something to ignore or try to push away. It is also highly unique, so one shouldn't try to fit grief into how it "should be" or how others have experienced it. Some people experience grief as extreme sadness and go through crying spells, while others experience it as numbness and feel as if they are in a cloud or outside of their own body just observing.
Seasons of life
I believe that the seasons are a very good analogy for life and death. They are out of our control and through the seasons one sees a pattern of birth, growth, closure, and death, only to repeat the cycle over again. "A thing isn't beautiful because it lasts." I found this to be a surprisingly profound and touching quote to come from a Marvel movie of all places (Avengers: Age of Ultron). This quote touches on the beauty of the cycle of life. Without Autumn we wouldn't have the newness of Spring or the continual growth of generations.
Waves of Grief
Many people talk about the stages of grief, as if it is a set number of items to check off and once completed you have graduated from the grief stage, never to return. This is not only inaccurate, but hurtful to those whose experience may be different. Many clients who I've worked with as a grief counselor express it more as waves. In the beginning the waves are strong and constant, beating down on you, making you feel like you will drown at any moment. As time goes on the waves get less powerful and are spread farther apart. But the grief never fully goes away and small waves of sadness may always be lapping at the shore. We get to a point where it is no longer preventing us from living our lives. But the memory is still there, as is the occasional sadness of what was lost. What people find as they progress through grief, is that the emotions become more diverse. Where early on the memory might bring only sadness, later the memory can bring smiles and laughter. But just as seasons come and go, there are times that we can slip back into the sadness of grief, and that isn't a bad thing. It is a reminder of how important this person or thing was in our lives, and the impact in made in our lives.
Autumn as a reminder
Take this opportunity to appreciate the wonder of Fall and to remember the seasons that have come and gone in your life. Appreciate the newness that came from loss, while remembering fully the things that made the life you have now possible.
James McMillian, MA, LCPC, NCC
Resolve - Counseling and Wellness Center
8340 Mission Rd. #230
Prairie Village, KS 66206